For our summer bonus episodes, Lynn is answering listener questions.
“Help. I do not recognize my newly turned 13-year-old, she is exhibiting behavior I never would have anticipated. She has a thrill for adrenaline and constantly asking me about stupid things I did as a kid, and I feel like I’m mourning the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known. She recently confessed that she has attempted cutting which absolutely floored me.”
Lynn talks about how to help your teenagers develop skills to say no to their friends and how to show empathy without imitating their friends who have self destructive habits.
Lynn mentions her webinar, Teens, Anxiety, and Depression, for teens and parents for families who feel that their children are struggling during this age.
Robin references Lynn’s Facebook Live video about the stresses of fall school and how parents are trying to manage the choices of going back to school this fall.
If you have a listener question for Lynn, be sure to join the podcast Facebook group to submit one.
Lynn Lyons 0:00
Today we’re talking about 13-year-old daughters. What do you do when your 13-year-old daughter tells you that she’s attempted cutting? What do you do when your daughter at the very time when you want to hold on to some closeness and keep an eye on her, is pushing back wanting to develop her own identity and autonomy? And what do you do about the friend in your child’s friend group that makes you go, “Oh!” How do you talk to your daughter about staying connected with that friend, but also recognizing that there may be some behaviors that aren’t what you value?
Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons, psychotherapist, author and speaker and I’m here with my sister in law and producer Robin. Hi, Robin.
Robin Hutson 0:51
Lynn Lyons 0:52
How are you?
Robin Hutson 0:54
Good. Good. It’s the middle of the summer now.
Lynn Lyons 0:56
It is the middle of the summer. We decided that it was time to do some listener questions. I think we got some great ones. We’ll start with the first one. Okay.
Robin Hutson 1:08
“Help. I do not recognize my newly turned 13-year-old, she is exhibiting behavior I never would have anticipated. She has a thrill for adrenaline and constantly asking me about stupid things I did as a kid and I feel like I’m mourning the sweetest little girl I’ve ever known. She recently confessed that she has attempted cutting which absolutely floored me brought on by social pressures and stresses according to her therapist, and I’ve always prided the closest we’ve shared but this newly blossoming teenager is spreading her wings in a way that frightens me and it’s heightened my own anxiety. I know at this age; they want to go and to create distance from their baby selves. But how can I be comfortable with letting her go when my trust in her is shaken? I’ve always believed that she’s been raised with strong values, but now she claims she was “such a stiff” when she was younger. I don’t want to ruin what’s left of our closeness, but I I’m afraid to let her go and something bad happens. Any help you can give?”
Lynn Lyons 2:04
Yes, there’s some help I can give. This is a tricky time with 13-year-olds. But you know, here’s the thing, Mom. You are saying that you really get what she’s supposed to be doing developmentally. And so, you’re struggling between sort of your intellectual knowledge of “I know this is what is supposed to be happening” and then that emotional mom fear of “Oh my gosh! It’s happening.”
So, here are a few things based on what you’re saying. I would pay attention to what she’s doing versus what she’s saying. Because the language that she’s using may not be matching up with what she’s actually doing. In other words, she may be she may be talking a good game, and she may be sort of rehearsing what it feels like to talk like a teenager. So, when you said she said she was such a stiff when she was little, right? So, she’s just figuring that out. So, you’re in that in between place where she’s trying on different identities.
Know also this may be the case that during this time of COVID, kids have been on screens a lot, which we get, they’ve also been communicating with each other a lot. And she may be hearing about things and learning about things. They may be talking about things in a way that’s new to her because she’s communicating with her friends through texting or social media. So, know that that’s happening, too.
What I think you need to pay attention to, is that when she’s trying things on, and when she’s saying things, she’s really going to be paying attention to the reaction she gets from you. And remember that it’s not all or nothing. So, when you say that, that you want to be comfortable with letting her go, which you’re not going to be comfortable with that, by the way. It’s okay to be uncomfortable with that. And you’re really not supposed to trust her that much because she’s 13. So, you want to give her trust where it’s developmentally appropriate. But it’s not like you’re sending her out into the world right now. It’s not all or nothing. You’re not really letting her go. You’re helping her navigate a transition.
So, here are the things that I would want you to think about and the conversations you would want to have with her. This is what you should be observing in her‚ not so much what she says, but what she does. How does she handle risk? How does she make decisions? What skills do you think she has to handle peer pressure?
One of the things… there was an interesting study a little while ago, that said that kids that are allowed to say no to their parents, kids that are allowed to disagree with their parents, kids that are allowed to push back on the opinions of their parents actually do better when they have to push back against peer pressure. So, she’s pushing back against you a little bit in even small ways consider that a victory because she’s getting used to her “No” voice which is really helpful as she moves further into adolescence.
What’s important to her? What are the values? You said you feel like she’s raised with good values. What are those values? Talk to her about that‚ not in a big, serious sit-down summit. But as you’re sort of going through your interactions with her, you shouldn’t trust a 13-year-old completely, but can she trust you to help her through this time of discovery? Without you freaking out. Right? What do you trust about her? What do you know about her?
And again, I also think during this COVID time, she might be using social media more, she’s… they’re bored, they’re a little isolated. So, they’re ramping things up as a way to sort of get stimulation and connection. So that may be what’s going on now.
You also said she has a therapist, which is terrific. So, she’s got somebody who she’s talking to. I am a big fan of parents being involved in therapy. So, if she is saying these things to you, I’d be curious about whether or not you could have a session with the therapist either on your own to ask some of the questions that you’re asking me and get some good advice. And also just to have a mom daughter session, so that you can express some of your— I don’t want to say worries, because I don’t want you to overreact about this—but for you to be able to talk to her about her strengths and what you notice. So, in other words, I want you to amplify her strengths. I want you to have her articulate to you what her values are. And I want you to recognize that this is a normal transition. Talk is cheap when you’re 13. Action is what really matters. So that’s what you want to pay attention.
Robin Hutson 6:25
I want to follow up with some questions for you for that, because to me, like when I read that question, what I red flag is this sentence, she recently confessed that she had attempted cutting. Okay, so there’s a lot going on here and I don’t want to project. I have two friends that when they were younger, had that pattern. And with what I know now as an adult, I think back of like, what could their parents have done in those circumstances?
The question I would have is, when she’s I think it’s great that she confessed it to the mom because it means that she’s wanting to share that information. With the mom, but if the mom gets distracted with that as the headline, “Oh, gosh, I can’t believe you did that! That was the stupidest thing. Oh, that’s so dangerous!” If the mom is really reactive in that conversation, as opposed to that calm vanilla ice cream, you know, neutral thing of “When you wanted to do that, what were you trying to do? Do you feel really badly?” How do you how do you move it to “Let’s talk about your feelings. Let me help you validate your feelings. Let me help you validate the patterns that you’re feeling right now. And let’s talk about other ways that these very real feelings can be managed in a strategic way.” Right?
How do you show your 13-year-old you don’t really want to go down that that path because it’s not very effective? It ultimately won’t make you feel better, and you think it’s going to make you feel better, but it won’t
Lynn Lyons 7:58
So, yes to all have that. In addition to that, though, the reason that I didn’t jump on the attempted cutting as sort of the headlines is for one, I would want to know what attempted cutting means.
So, I’ve done this for a long time. Sometimes attempted cutting means “I took a paperclip, and I scratched my arm.”
Robin Hutson 8:18
Well, the therapist speaks. You have a lot more experience about all this. (Laughs).
Lynn Lyons 8:21
The language right? This “I attempted cutting,” what does that mean? Because the word cutting has been really, it’s become very common for teens and preteens to talk about that. But the point that you make that we’re really talking about, if somebody chooses to do some sort of self-destructive behavior, what that says to me is that there is a skill that needs to be developed that… just as you’re saying, what were you feeling? What was the purpose of that cutting has a social component and you see also; you remember in the question that the therapist said that it was mainly brought on by peer pressure? So, this was an experiment.
And it really is fine to talk about this as an experiment, like you said, “What were you feeling? And what would be other ways for you to manage those feelings? And also, how do you handle social pressure?” If people are saying, “Oh, it’s a really good idea to try this, that we can apply that to, you know, smoking cigarettes in the old days, we know that kids in group situations, particularly girls, eating disorders became very contagious in terms of that kind of behavior. Sure, you want to talk about it in terms of the social, the social context in which that happened. And being able to say, “This is an option.”
There are all sorts of options that people have to manage their feelings, and some of them are really great, and some of them are really lousy. This would be in the category of really lousy and so let’s figure out what you can do when you’re feeling that way. But I’m guessing just based on the fact that the therapist did say, you know, it was based on social pressure that this was a little social experiment that she was doing. And for a 13-year-old, knowing where she fits in, knowing what group she’s a part of, knowing who her friends are, who she is, those are all really, really developmentally appropriate things for a 13-year-old to be dealing with.
And so, I think that the key to this, the key to this, Mom, is you need to be non-reactive. You need to have those conversations with her about the skills that she’s building and the values that are important to her. And all the other stuff that swims around and all the other behaviors and everything, those can be distracting. Keep your eye on the prize.
How do you manage your emotions? How do we navigate through difficult changes and friendships? Are we, are you making sure that she’s having positive social connection in some way even during COVID? And don’t let your worry and don’t let your “What if?” thing and don’t let your “Oh my gosh what’s going on with my daughter I’m going to lose all the closeness!”… Don’t let those fears of yours take your eye off the prize of what she needs right now. She needs solid, nonreactive conversations
Robin Hutson 11:09
I have a question for you. Following up to this because I have a feeling this relates to many parents with children in this age group. As a life philosophy I’ve always said like you don’t take marital advice from someone who is just you know, going through a divorce right? Or don’t take… you don’t take advice from someone who is not thriving in the thing that you are trying to thrive in.
And so what is the most constructive way for a parent to acknowledge there could be a friend in your child’s friend group who is very self-destructive or you know, is really neglected at home in a way that they’re going to be creating and asking for a lot of attention through negative ways? Or you know, there’s just like someone who you feel for, but you want your child to understand this person isn’t necessarily a source of good ideas. Because this person is suffering. Yeah, what’s an appropriate way to say that to your child for them to start understanding, “This is my friend who I care about, but she is a bit of a mess, and I don’t really take advice from her,” for that’s ultimately what you want them to learn.
Lynn Lyons 12:21
Yeah, so that’s the empathy, not imitation approach, okay? You want them to understand perhaps why this person is making these decisions and to be very empathic that they are going through a tough time and use that child, it— with empathy, of course— as a way to help your child see how important it is to be able to develop positive skills and how important it is to know the difference between what’s a helpful strategy to take on and what’s a not helpful strategy to take on.
And again, it comes back to this developing a critical thinker, which is why saying no to disagree with your parents— not disagreeing with them, like “Empty the dishwasher.” “No!” but disagreeing with them about your opinions… about your views of things. The more conversations that kids have with their parents about this, then the more that they’re able then to differentiate between what’s something that I should do and what’s something that I shouldn’t do.
So, we want empathy, without imitation, because we don’t want to do it in a judgy way. And, you know, I mean, that’s sort of the stereotypical thing we think of is, you know, “I’m not gonna let you hang out with that, boy, he’s a bad influence,” you know, that kind of thing, but being able to say, “What do you think’s going on with him? And how do you think you can make sure that you don’t fall into the same patterns?” Or “What do you think happened that he’s making these decisions and that allows conversations for your kids to develop some really strong values for themselves.
It is a really hard thing when you’re 13 because the most important source of information— just like you say you don’t ask somebody for marital advice when they’re going through a divorce, you certainly don’t want to ask another 13 year old how they’re managing their social life.
Robin Hutson 14:09
But that’s what they’re left with.
Lynn Lyons 14:10
That’s what they’re left with. And that’s the most important place for them to go because they feel so connected, but it’s helping them make those differentiations. And doing it in a way that allows your child to come to their own conclusions and to be able to observe things and be more empathic and still say, “I’m not going to participate in that behavior.” You start doing that with a kid when they’re 11, 12, or 13, you have done them a wonderful service of being able to help them make those decisions when it comes to peer relationships and peer pressure.
Robin Hutson 14:40
So, if listeners have children who are younger than 13, there is a way to start these conversations so that maybe the child feels more armed to react differently when given those opportunities with friends.
Lynn Lyons 14:53
So, you know, you could think say it’s a younger kid and say there’s somebody at school who’s mean to other kids or doesn’t include somebody in the group or maybe there’s somebody who, you know, tends to tell lies, or maybe there’s somebody who’s not very good at sharing turns or you know, any kind of those behaviors. And instead of being immediately judging and saying to your child, you know, “Well, I don’t want you around that, boy, I can’t believe he behaved that way,” being able to say, to have them investigated a little bit so that they can come to their own conclusions. So, you’re just planting those seeds.
So, this topic of teens and tweens and friendships and how to manage all of the changes that they’re going through is a big one, and we’re certainly going to continue to address it in future episodes. I do have a webinar on my website, it’ll be in the show notes too. It’s called Teens, Anxiety and Depression, and it walks teenagers and parents through a lot of the information that you need to know as you’re navigating this time. If your child is struggling
We’re going to continue to take these listener questions coming up, we have a mom who wants to talk about sibling fighting. And there’s also a mom who’s got two kids under the age of five, and she is exhausted and irritable. I’m sure some of you can relate. So, we’ll be talking to you soon.
Robin Hutson 16:20
And for those of you who don’t follow Lynn on her Facebook page, I want to make sure everyone saw her Facebook Live that she did recently, just in response to the overwhelming stress that all families are feeling regarding school plans in the fall.
I think, I think Lynn, you really knocked it out of the park sort of offering a way for us to approach these challenges. And you said something super powerful, which was if we’re worrying, we’re not problem solving. And worry doesn’t protect our families, but problem solving does. And that was really powerful and very helpful.
Lynn Lyons 16:57
You know, even as I send my son back to college, what the Fall is going to look like is a source of stress on so many levels. The shit show has begun in earnest.
So, thanks for joining us, everybody. We’ll be back in touch soon with more questions and more answers.
Robin Hutson 17:17
Lynn Lyons 17:18
Talk to you soon!